A Theatre's Ritual

The Profound Simplicity of Support, Onstage and Off

Let’s be honest. We actors can be downright weird.

After all, there is nothing natural about repeatedly putting ourselves into embarrassing situations or weeping uncontrollably in front of a crowd of strangers. In the best moments there is a magical synchronicity that happens between actors in a scene; in the worst, our egos get in the way and our acting becomes stiff and unnatural.

So why bother? Why would I put myself through such a public roller coaster of emotion?

It comes down to joy. The joy that arises from getting out of my own way so that I can be completely there for you, the other actor, while our audience looks on as engaged voyeurs.

I stand in the circle, holding hands with those on each side of me, our group forming an unbroken chain of the actors and crew members with whom we have been rehearsing for the past six weeks. My love and appreciation for each one of them, for their generous gifts of talent and creativity, rises up to fill my heart.

It’s a few minutes before showtime, and downstairs the audience buzzes with anticipation of tonight’s performance. My eyes move around the group until they meet with another’s. Then, we exchange a simple verbal confirmation as we look directly at one another: “I’m here for you.” This ritual continues, a great incantation of support, until each of us has spoken these words with all the others in the circle.

It is a practice that has been repeated before every performance for the past 23 years among our band of theatre artists. The words “I’m here for you,” passed down through the Thunder River Theatre Company lineage, delivered like a small gift among each of our fellow cast members.

There is power in this deceptively simple act of kindness. Acknowledging that no matter what happens out there in the glare of the limelight, with the audience peering at us out of the darkness from just a few feet away, that we are in this together—that I will catch you if you fall, and that you will do the same for me if for some reason the lines of Shakespeare don’t materialize or if my voice finally gives in to a pesky cold. The circle of support is a reminder that when we step onstage together, it is our combined voice as a cast that holds the most power. We are onstage to challenge ourselves and each other to be completely present and frighteningly vulnerable, to walk on the razor’s edge of our souls, to unabashedly bare our most private selves for the benefit of others. To act as a wake up siren for the greater good, a living reminder of our shared humanity, whether it be through comedy or tragedy.

Amidst a national climate of unending political drama and polarization, violence, the devastation of natural disasters, and other disturbing headlines on the nightly news, I step back into that circle of actors each night and I am reminded that looking into another’s eyes and saying “I’m here for you” is bigger than just preparation for another performance. It is an opportunity that each of us has anytime, anywhere. Such a simple and profound act of softening, reaching out, and reminding others that we are in this together. That our shared humanity takes precedence over any of the random constructs we have created to potentially divide us. That life is more meaningful when we face it together.

I’m here for you.

Corey Simpson is the Executive Artistic Director of Thunder River Theatre Company in Carbondale.